Puttin' On The Ritz

Individual high style is the hallmark of an increasingly upscale bathroom sink and faucet market.

"People are spending money selectively to get the things they've always wanted," declares Ed Detgen, director of marketing, Danze in Lincolnwood, IL.

"The designs are the driver," adds Guy Itzkovitch, v.p. for Hamat USA in Totowa, NJ.

Indeed, today's homeowners are increasingly sophisticated in their comprehension of design. And the bath whether it be a luxurious master bath or a high-style trophy powder room is the perfect spot to translate those design ideas into reality.

"We're finding luxury is more mainstream [now]," says Mary McCullough, assistant channel manager for Delta Faucet Co.
in Indianapolis, IN.

She adds that people sometimes pick bath sink and faucet styles that may be less practical or durable in order to get style for instance, the increased use of vessel sinks in master baths.

Streamlined Style
While traditional remains a staple of the mid-level market, the high end is increasingly drawn to the uncluttered lines and effortless elegance of contemporary design. Even those homeowners who want a familiar, warm feel are choosing transitional looks, which take their cues from the 20th century from fluid, glamorous Art Deco styles to Modernist simplicity.

"Transitional is gaining power because [it's] a little cleaner than the traditional," confirms Itzkovitch. "Pretty modern, but with some accents that pull [the look] a little backwards, to 50 years ago."

"Those architecturally inspired styles are beginning to influence faucet designs," believes Sandy Vandall, v.p./marketing communications for Price Pfister in Lake Forest, CA.

Avi Abel, general manager, Watermark Designs in Brooklyn, NY, thinks it's the increasing presence of European manufacturers in the U.S., as well as the changing demographics of the market, that are causing this shift. Young homeowners "don't want what their parents have," Abel notes.

He sees ultra-minimalist industrial looks as a hot up-and-comer. "Gnarled edges, exposed nuts and screws, really raw stuff," Abel elaborates. "It's almost the look you'd expect to see from Home Depot for $20, but [fabricated as] a high-quality product. Adding that designer flair to it, but [keeping] a basic, raw look [is] gaining some momentum, especially in metropolitan areas the loft look. [For instance], we just did a project in New York where they converted a factory to high-end condominiums. They wanted to maintain the feel of the old days of the building, where it was just a factory. So they went with [Watermark's] industrial faucets."

McCullough points out that Delta's Victorian line of faucets is also a strong seller, while Michael Isaacs, president of Mico Designs in Chicago, IL, insists "very ornate, or French country" is still a high-end trend.

Rainbow Finishes
In great contrast from just a few years ago, when satin nickel was a revelation, faucets now come in dozens of finishes and so do all accessories, reports Jim Tomafsky, owner of Mountain Plumbing Products in West Deptford, NJ. His company's exposed plumbing line is available in 30 finishes, with many tones designed to exactly match popular faucet finishes such as Delta's Venetian Bronze and Kohler's Brushed Bronze.

"Our products are like jewelry," analogizes Detgen. "We're not the dress, we accessorize.

[So] fashion is important to us. There are certainly more and more options available. Even the largest companies that have been the most conservative in product development are starting to grow more rapidly in the decorative end of our business."
A burgeoning niche market, exposed plumbing has crossed over to many design styles, he adds, noting: "We're doing more and more contemporary exposed plumbing sales than ever before. And polished nickel is becoming a very popular finish. The richness [of it] is a lot nicer than polished chrome."

"People will catch [the difference] immediately," adds Itzkovitch. "They won't [necessarily] know what they see, but they'll feel the warmer tone. It gives them a higher value, more expensive feel."

The traditional market, which remains a strong seller, prefers darker metal colors such as oil-rubbed bronze, Itzkovitch notes. Most oil-rubbed bronze now is PVD-coated, however, as opposed to the living finish the look started out with. "That was a fad," thinks Abel. "To have the look is one thing, but a finish coming off the faucet that's not what a consumer wants."

"Once people know what a living finish is, they don't want it," concurs Isaacs.

Weathered or brushed copper finishes are another up-and-comer, notes McCullough, who also mentions aluminum tones.
Abel also sees a niche market for black wrought iron as a component for rustic or French country looks. And, of course, good old polished chrome is still a stock mainstay, but is also often the finish of choice for minimalist industrial looks.

As for faucet style, high-end picks seem to be trending toward wall-mounts. "We sell a lot of wall-mounted faucets," says Abel. "That [design has] made its mark. That's not a fad that's going away. People use them in powder rooms, because when you have guests coming over, you want them to ooh and aah," he quips. "[But] for practicality reasons, people are used to deck-mounted faucets, so that's what's going in all of the other baths in the house." There, Detgen sees an increase in two-handle, widespread faucets, rather than centersets.

Heavily trafficked bathrooms often need to put function first, believes Vandall, who cites Price Pfister's recently introduced bathroom pull-out. The bathroom variation of that popular kitchen style makes for easy cleaning
of the sink area, as well as other functions, such as washing hair.

Sink as Sculpture
Can a sink be a work of art? In the case of high-end vessel bowls, the answer is a resounding yes, say manufacturers. "There's a personalization," notes McCullough. "[You see] hand-painted vessel sinks, textures [and] more of the mixed mediums ceramic and glass, wood and metal, glass and metal."

Innovative materials, such as glass and cast metal, enable manufacturers to come up with enormous diversity in style, explains Joe Jumalon, president of Elite Bath, Inc. in Newburg, OR, who cites his company's cast bronze line as an example. "Cast bronze allows for more diversity in design versus a typical fabricated copper sink," he notes.

Cast metal can give a sink an almost sculpture-like look that provides a strong focal point for bathroom design for instance, Elite's stainless steel sink with a nickel bronze front.

Vlad Frigman, creative director at Contemporary Bath Design, L.P. in New York, NY, also mentions glass as a high-end material that allows for a lot of creative innovation, particularly with vessel bowls. "It's possible to [put] different textures underneath [glass, which] you can see through the thickness of the glass," he says.

This gives the textured underlayer a continuously changing look, rather like the feel of ocean water. "The glass provides the light. It's beautiful," Frigman adds. "It's also very easy for maintenance, and it doesn't have pores, [which means] no bacteria, which is important today."

Glass can mimic marble or steel, and can adapt to any application, from textures that look like cut rock to ancient Roman pottery to marble, he further reports.

However, other manufacturers surveyed believe that some glass looks which also include glass countertops and tile have already peaked on the high end.

"Glass vessels themselves are at the tail end [of their trend]," believes Abel. "It's not exciting any more."

A staple of kitchen design, a stainless steel sink, is another adventure pick for the bathroom.

"I don't believe stainless steel will ever reach the popularity in the bathroom that it has in the kitchen, since much of the trend was fueled by the appliance industry," opines Vandall. "Without that influence you have much more flexibility and creativity to experiment with alternative finishes and textures."

But John Lauer, merchandise and communications manager for Blanco in Cinnaminson, NJ, believes his company's new steel bathroom sink is a logical progression from the kitchen and bar sink. Additionally, stainless steel makes for an elegant, modern look that works particularly well with industrial loft looks and sleek European contemporary designs. Abel also cites "china basins with square edges, not really deep, very simple" as a popular pick for a modern look.

For transitional and traditional looks, the pedestal sink remains strong, says Itzkovitch. "It's a niche market, but it's gaining more and more followers," he says. "It's different. You can do a lot of [innovative] designs." One down side of the pedestal the storage space of that former, big vanity box must be re-located to another part of the bathroom." Some solutions include a storage closet echoing the newly popular walk-in butler's pantry in furniture-look kitchens cabinetry above the toilet, larger medicine cabinets or a separate furniture piece.

In terms of color, however, consumers are staying with the classics.

"The majority of what we're doing is white china," says Itzkovitch. "Twenty years ago, people were trying to play with everything here, they just go with a newer, fresher design."

"The phenomenon I'm seeing is, you cannot see enough different [design] styles," says Detgen.

He also cites statistics that indicate consumers will redecorate a new home within the first few years of ownership. "They want
to make it their own," Detgen concludes. "So, the more options they have, [the better]. That is really a key issue that the market is responding to." KBDN